Saturday, October 06, 2007
I treated myself to a manicure and pedicure, which I do sometimes to keep the blood loss down. I am not a person who should be trusted with sharp implements, but own several. One of these days, they will find me bleeding to death from my cuticles.
The shop is staffed with Vietnamese women of all ages, none of whom speaks English well. They keep up a steady chatter among themselves, doubtless discussing their customers. I wish I understood their language so I would know what they really think of me behind their polite smiles.
I tip well and say "thank you" for everything, so hopefully they like me as much as I like them.
I was feeling particularly princessy with one lady-in-waiting working on my fingernails, ("You have nice hands, big scar," she said, tracing the seam which runs almost the length of my right middle finger. I once cut all the tendons and had to be surgically reconnected, definitive proof that I do not deserve to handle knives.) Another lady was squatting in front of me, working on my toenails. I was concerned that hunching over might be uncomfortable for her back, but she didn't seem to be in pain.
About 80 percent of California's manicurists and salon owners are of Vietnamese descent, while the number nationwide is about 40 percent. Many Vietnamese people work in nail salons because the licensing test is given in Vietnamese, which makes it possible to begin earning money almost on arrival in America without knowing a word of English.
I doubt that their burning ambition was to grow up and become manicurists in America, but economic necessity entraps them in an industry with health risks and no chance of advancement. Many of the chemicals used are considered dangerous carcinogens which can also cause birth defects.
Some of these women may have harbored dreams of becoming Rhodes Scholars, not beautifying spoiled American women, some of whom have never worked in their lives.
My Arabian Nights reverie was shattered by a voice that could have called hogs. Slaughtered them in their tracks, even. A young voluntary blond with a woman who was probably her mother was standing in the door, yelling, "Can we get a mani and a pedi and a pedi?"
The paint immediately peeled off the walls and fell to the floor. Splatttt.
It turned out they could.
Dulcinea was settled into a vibrating throne from which she commenced to give directions like a five star general at his command post. Her feet were lovingly immersed in a tub of water by the pedicurist.
"This water needs to be warmer," she yelled. "Can you make it warmer?" The pedicurist picked up the tub and hauled it to the back room, returning with presumably hotter water.
"Now it's too hot," she whined. "Can't you get it right?" I might have poured it over her head, but the pedicurist hefted the tub again and disappeared into the back room. This time, she didn't come back for several minutes.
She immersed her customer's feet again, perhaps a tad less lovingly.
I held my breath as if I had something riding on whether or not the third time was Just Right. Apparently it was, because she immediately began instructing the pedicurist on how to do her job. She demanded that her toenails be cut to her exact specifications, and made the incredibly patient young woman return to the same toe three times before she was satisfied.
She resembled a Hummel, one of those dreadfully cloying figurines manufactured in Nazi Germany during World War II which depicted cherubs of the Master Race with blond hair and pinched features cavorting through charming childhood activities like shooting squirrels while ice skating.
The manicurist asked her if she would also like her fingernails done, and she said, "No. I go somewhere else for that. A better place."
Her mother hadn't said a single word since they arrived. I hope she was mortified to have produced such a bad seed.
Dulcinea kept staring at me. People do that sometimes and I'm not sure why as I have the usual allotment of everything, but in this instance, my disgust was probably written on my face in both English and Vietnamese.